Angus Lyon, Consultant, spoke with The Impact Lawyers on how LawCare has published their research into the wellbeing of lawyers in the UK during the pandemic.
The Impact Lawyers Reports:
On 28th September 2021, the UK legal mental health charity LawCare released findings of its research study ‘Life in the Law’. The research into wellbeing in the profession captured data between October 2020 and January 2021 from over 1,700 legal professionals in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man. The aim of the research was to take a snapshot of mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession to help inform future steps the profession must collectively take to improve wellbeing in the sector. While the details of the research relate to UK lawyers and organisations, the principles apply worldwide. Whether you practice in Madrid, Manhattan, Manchester, Melbourne or wherever you will know that the last year in law has been tough. Very tough.
The study questioned legal professionals on a range of areas, including work intensity (workload and working hours), and used three recognised academic scales for burnout (disengagement and exhaustion), autonomy (ability to control what, where, how, and with whom, work is done), and psychological safety (ability to speak up with ideas and questions, raise concerns or admit mistakes).
The majority of participants (69%) had experienced mental ill-health (whether clinically or self-diagnosed) in the 12 months before completing the survey. Most common experiences of mental ill-health, experienced often to all of the time, included anxiety, low mood, and depression. Of those who had experienced mental ill-health, only 56% said they had talked about it at work. The most common reason for not disclosing mental ill-health at work was the fear of stigma that would attach, resulting in career implications, and financial and reputational consequences.
Data from the study suggests legal professionals are at a high risk of burnout with participants aged between 26 and 35 displaying the highest burnout scores, and also reporting the lowest autonomy, lowest psychological safety, and highest work intensity score. Female lawyers, those from ethnic minorities, and those with a disability also scored higher than average for burnout and lower for autonomy and psychological safety at work. Participants with lower autonomy at work and lower psychological safety at work displayed higher burnout.
Negative effects of current working culture and practices
Being exposed to high levels of work intensity (having a high workload and working long hours) was associated with higher burnout, regardless of how much autonomy a person had, or how psychologically safe their work environment was. 28% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed that their work required them to be available to clients 24/7 and 65% said they checked emails outside of work hours to keep up with their workload.
The study suggests that many legal professionals are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours a night) with just over a third of participants (35%) estimating they had slept between 6 to 7 hours a night over the 2 weeks before completing the survey, a quarter (25%) averaging 5 to 6 hours, and over one in ten (12%) indicating they had less than 5 hours a night. As the number of hours slept per night decreased, levels of burnout increased.
Most participants were not furloughed (88%) and only 2% were made redundant because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, almost half expressed concern about their job security and 58% were more concerned about their finances during COVID-19. 59% reported being more concerned about increased pressures around work-life balance.
Bullying, harassment, or discrimination at work
Just over one in five participants (22%) said they had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace in the 12 months before completing the survey. These individuals displayed higher burnout levels, lower autonomy, and lower psychological safety at work, and reported higher levels of work intensity.
The most commonly provided workplace support measures were regular catch-ups or appraisals, mental health policies, mental health and wellbeing training, and signposting to external support. Of these, regular catch-ups or appraisals were reported to be the most helpful. Having these in place helped to bolster confidence in personal development and reduce anxiety. Despite this only 48% of those in a position of management or supervisory capacity had received leadership, management, or supervisory training.
Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, said, “This research, the first of its kind in this country, provides robust evidence that the legal profession is stressed, tired, anxious, at high risk of burnout and that those working practices in the law that undermine mental health need to change. We want this research to be the catalyst for us to come together as a profession to create that change, to create a culture in law that puts the law’s greatest asset – its people – first. The experience of living and working through a global pandemic has had a profound effect on us all and presents an opportunity like no other to reimagine the future and make it happen”.
IBA interim report
The LawCare research echoes findings into lawyer wellbeing internationally. In April 2021 the International Bar Association (IBA) published the initial results of a global evaluation into the wellbeing of the legal profession . It used two surveys, one of individual lawyers and another of legal institutions. It gathered responses from more than 3,000 individuals and over 180 legal organisations including bar associations, law societies, in-house legal departments and law firms. The surveys were the first of their kind undertaken at an international level with a specific focus on the legal profession, covering the period between July and December 2020.
The interim findings confirmed that poor lawyer wellbeing was a cause for global concern. The index scores from the survey demonstrated that lawyers’ levels of wellbeing fell below the World Health Organisation’s global average in every region.
The IBA has set up a task force to coordinate and implement responses to the issues of depression, stress and addictions in the profession worldwide. The interim survey represents an initial step in the Association’s work in providing a holistic picture of lawyer wellbeing and will give recommendations to improve this. The full report is due to be published in late October 2021.
It may be that your organisation is well on the way to establishing good working practices which support lawyer wellbeing. It may be that this is something that has not quite worked its way to the top of the firm’s ‘to do’ list.
Conveyancing firm Convey Law in the UK has made staff wellbeing a top priority in the organisation. Managing director Lloyd Davies explained recently, “We have been using the services of professional counsellors for over three years. I know that other legal practices have trained Mental Health First Aiders working for them on a ratio of one to ten employees so that they can recognise and address wellbeing issues before they become a problem”.
“Mental health issues are often more complex than simply work-related, with work and stress often amplifying the problem but not being the root cause. The cost of staff absenteeism and resignations will far outweigh the cost of addressing the issues internally and I would encourage all business leaders to consider how they can address such issues and provide the support their staff need. The law is often a macho environment where traditionally any form of weakness has been frowned upon. Good wellbeing initiatives and a caring culture will inevitably produce better results as issues of stress, anxiety and general mental health are dealt with appropriately and professionally.”
A leading lawyer in the conveyancing sector has suggested we are witnessing “an Industrial Revolution in reverse” as record numbers quit cities for the good life in the country and seaside.
Speaking as the first Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday in England officially ended (June 30, 2021) and moved into its tapered benefit stage until the end of September 2021, Lloyd Davies who holds senior positions at the Conveyancing Association and Society of Licensed Conveyancers and is Managing Director of specialist conveyancer Convey Law discusses the migration of workers away from city life.
“The demographic shifts we witnessed during the pandemic are likely continue to fuel the market if supply can keep up with demand. There is still a lot of demand to move house without the stamp duty incentives. We believe that there has been a real shift in where people want to live to as well. London property price increases have always traditionally led the way, with supply always outstripping demand and pushing prices upwards at a faster rate than the majority of the rest of the country, with London leading the way for other parts of the country to follow. (However, London annual house growth according to the June Office for National Statistics Retail House Price Index was 4.2% compared to 4.5% in the East Midlands, 4.4% in the North West and 4.3% in the South West).
“Now, after the last 18 months of the pandemic, people know they really can work highly effectively from home and can live almost anywhere in the country – they don’t have to live in the city where their work office was previously located. It really is the opposite of the Industrial Revolution when people all flocked to the cities for work. Now a large proportion of the population have a lot more choice in terms of where they want to live.
“There is a large-scale reversal going on. Of course, young people may still want to live in the cities but I believe that we really are witnessing a massive lifestyle shift in the UK. People want to buy houses in lovely places and with the right resources for their home office and family lifestyles. Even those buying second homes in the country or seaside will do so with a view to spending more than just three weeks in the summer there as they can work effectively from home. This in turn will better support the communities that they are moving to.
“I think we will continue to see more people selling their main houses in the city and perhaps, if they can afford it, locating their main house in a beautiful location and keeping a small apartment in town.
“The net effect will be sustained transaction numbers, a very buoyant “sellers’ market” and increasing property prices. This is great for economic recovery, so long as house prices do not get out of control.”
Mr Davies also forecast that the end of the SDLT holiday would not end in “a cliff edge of failed transactions” because there had not been a “sufficient supply of new properties to the market” as we headed towards the deadline:
“Viewing numbers have been so high, with a lot more eager purchasers than properties on the market, that properties are being sold for over the asking price on the day they are placed on the market, with sometimes dozens of purchasers looking to secure the property. And the exponential increase in property prices over the course of the last six months, it is likely that purchasers who have negotiated a property transaction will follow through to completion, even if they miss the SDLT deadline, as they know property is scarce and house prices are increasing exponentially. Supply and demand!!”
He also praised the industry for working hard to manage client expectations and ensuring “plentiful warnings and disclaimers” were made to clients to ensure they were aware that there were no absolute guarantees that sales would be completed by the SDLT deadlines.
And he said there had been a “real awakening” in the industry of the need “to look after each other and our teams”, commenting:
“By the very nature of conveyancing, property lawyers are often seen as barriers to the conclusion of property transactions by those who do not understand the complexities or necessity of legal due diligence throughout transaction process. Yes, there will always be good and bad examples but I think that all professionals in the industry – conveyancers, estate agents, mortgage brokers etc have recognised the pressure conveyancers have been under over the course of the last 18 months.
“It has been a really difficult time for people, working from home, often with their families around them, with the pressure of an initial and ongoing backlog of work and then the ongoing quarterly SDLT deadlines. I am sure that every conveyancer in the country was downhearted when the March deadline was extended in the way that it was by the government. Fortunately, many legal practices have acted responsibly and curtailed instructions where they have needed to, knowing staff were finding it difficult to cope.”
“Many in the property industry reacted to the issues we faced by trying to look out for each other and acting responsibly and professionally with each other. The Conveyancing Foundation launched the “Be Kind We Care” initiative at the start of 2021 to remind everyone of the need to work together and respect each other at this difficult time. The Conveyancing Foundation also teamed up with wellbeing and mental health charities Law Care, Agents Together and Mindstep to create a Wellbeing HUB and seminars to assist those in the industry.”
Looking back over the last six months, Mr Davies said he believed the Government should not have extended the SDLT deadline beyond March but should instead have agreed that the SDLT holiday would hold for sales agreed before the end of March.
“They did not need to extend the deadline as the housing market was already overheated; the government should have consulted more closely with the industry on the overall implications of SDLT. The government lost revenue and drove house prices up – as opposed to introducing a tapering relief to assist consumers and professionals in the industry. I would hope that moving forward the key conveyancing stakeholders in the industry, who are aligned under the banner of the Conveyancing Taskforce, will be well placed to work with Government to ensure that any further changes to SDLT and the conveyancing process are made with sufficient consultation.”
The Conveyancing Foundation, established as a not-for-profit charity in 2010, has since raised over £820,000 through their Charity Lotto and Be Kind We Care initiative. The charity was established by conveyancers to help conveyancers, and others in the property industry, to raise awareness and funds for their partner charities.
Georgia Davies, from The Conveyancing Foundation, sat down with Solicitors Journal to discuss the current pressure on the conveyancing industry, the importance of mental health in the workplace, and the #BeKindWeCare campaign that was launched in March this year.
What can the residential property sector learn from the frenetic rush to beat the SDLT deadline? Nicola Laver from Solicitors Journal reports below.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Facebook is so ‘last year’, Twitter is mentally exhausting, TikTok is most definitely not on my radar, but I’ll admit Instagram is starting to become a little more appealing (thanks to the nagging of my older children).
Then there’s LinkedIn, which has the inexplicable effect of making me feel inadequate. I’d describe it as the business equivalent of the celebrity side of Instagram – instead of the toned and airbrushed images of beautiful influencers, LinkedIn boasts the prowess and high achievements of professionals who like to talk about their accomplishments.
How many of us on LinkedIn (me included) are honest enough to admit we envy not just those who have made a huge success of themselves but whose posts are getting hundreds of ‘likes’ (compared to your own meagre handful)?
I do like LinkedIn, really I do. For every professional talking up their achievements and skills, there are others admitting their failures and foibles, their struggles and defeats.
It’s also inspiring and challenging and I love to see how my contacts are doing in their business lives, even if I don’t actually know them. And occasionally
I find myself positively hooked on LinkedIn. In recent weeks, I’ve been transfixed, appalled and inspired in equal measure by the posts and comments within the residential conveyancing faction on LinkedIn and which led to this month’s cover feature.
But I’ve been angered too, for instance by the lawyer who claimed just 10 per cent of conveyancing was actual legal work (the rest was managing client expectations). I wasn’t the only to take issue with that statement.
The extreme pressures exerted on conveyancers as a result of the stamp duty holiday have exposed problems within the sector that cannot be ignored. The accounts of those working day and night, weekends and on annual leave, in the car and on the beach, are painful to read.
“Change will only happen if the entire conveyancing profession stands together to make a collective decision to charge a decent rate“
The anecdotes of poor conveyancing practice on the part of some conveyancers (mainly conveyancing factories), of incessant phone calls and emails from estate agents and clients, the stories of agents undermining and ‘dissing’ solicitors of integrity make for pitiful reading.
Is this really the state of the practice area I was once a part of? I left conveyancing back in 2007, just before the 2008 recession. While I was in practice there were stressful times – the run-up to Christmas was always hectic; Fridays would frequently have a handful of completions to handle. But the pressure was nothing like it is today.
Worse still is the pay. It’s no exaggeration to say the legal fees are insulting (and the lender gets the legal work done for free). This needs to change. But change will only happen if the entire conveyancing profession stands together to make a collective decision to charge a decent rate. How that could take place, in reality, is another matter.
For conveyancing lawyers reading this: I am in awe of you. I hope your clients and your firms truly recognise your dedication. Thank you to those who took time they really didn’t have to contribute to the feature.
This is my final foreword as editor before I move on to other challenges – I have business ideas to work on, books in the pipeline and other writing to focus on. But it’s been a privilege to have been a part of Solicitors Journal for the last two years, at a time when both we and the profession as a whole have been navigating an unprecedented period.
One thing this episode has made me yearn for is to return to legal practice; being part of a team riding a difficult period while meeting the changing needs of clients in an evolving legal landscape.
I could add that to my post-Solicitors Journal bucket list. Then again, I’d need far more than 24 hours in the day – a sentiment my conveyancing colleagues will relate.
It always was a high-pressured working environment and for relatively little return.
Throw in a global pandemic, home working conditions, demanding clients, lawyers worried about (or sick with) covid-19, caring responsibilities, lack of family and social contact – and a stamp duty land tax (SDLT) holiday to boot – the pressure cooker has heated up.
It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago at the time of the first lockdown, the residential market was on pause. Fast forward a year and, according to the Law Society Law Management Section’s pulse survey covering the first quarter of this year, the number of new conveyancing matters increased by 54 per cent for conveyancing firms.
Now, at the time of writing, the pressure cooker is on ‘high’ – with three weeks to go until the SDLT holiday expires. Conveyancers throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland are working days, evenings and weekends to try to complete transactions ahead of 30 June, many firms having recruited more lawyers to support existing teams.
Unsurprisingly, the situation is taking its toll. For many the damage has already been done; latent problems exposed. There are reports of burnt-out conveyancers with some throwing in the towel, others switching careers or, at least, changing practice areas. And just about all conveyancers are suffering extreme stress and risk burnout.
A significant problem many conveyancers have been publicly highlighting concerns the quality of conveyancing in some quarters, including from factory conveyancing organisations.
“In my 25-plus years in conveyancing, never have I seen such pressure in the profession,” comments Alistair McKinlay, a partner at Ridley & Hall in West Yorkshire. “Expectations from clients can be hard to manage at the best of times, but add into the mix some truly diabolical standards of conveyancing from some firms and it is a recipe for disaster… for both clients and lawyers alike.”
He offers up an extract from an email recently received from a ‘volume conveyancing firm’ in the North West, which reads: “I can confirm receipt of the Draft contract pack, and enquiries will be raised as soon as I can. Although these were received from yourselves on 22nd April, I only received the file on 17th May from the Inception team [sic].”
As McKinlay comments: “This just sums up some of the challenges we face when the variance in standards across the profession is so wide. I wonder if the buyer instructing that firm has any idea about the delay in the progression of their file? I know our client was absolutely disgusted and furious that their sale was being held back as a consequence.”
A former member of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) technical panel for a number of years, “in my attempt to try to do something to help drive up standards”, McKinlay ponders: “Sadly, I fear that that scheme really has ‘no teeth’ and does very little to demonstrate ‘quality’ anymore.”
I put this charge to the Law Society. A spokesperson responded that the CQS is a recognised quality standard and that accreditation sets out the standard of competence, risk management and client service levels expected of residential conveyancing practices.
They also pointed out that all CQS- accredited practices go through annual assessments in order to maintain their accredited status. “When the pandemic hit,” the spokesperson added, “we were forced to put onsite assessments on hold and our focus is on supporting accredited practices during this challenging time. On-site assessments will resume as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Jasbir Dhaliwal, a solicitor at Taylor Rose, recently recounted in a LinkedIn comment: “So as the week ends, the amusement doesn’t stop… and this is exactly what slows down some transactions. Selling a second floor flat. Buyer’s solicitors: ‘Please confirm if the property benefits from a conservatory.’ Me: ‘We are selling the second floor flat.’ Buyer’s solicitors: ‘The enquiry still stands.’”
Beverley Winick, a conveyancer at Nichols March recounts receiving an email from the other side: “‘Please confirm your client has complied with the covenants’ – there are none! ‘Please confirm you are instructed to act for your client’s lender’ – there isn’t one!”
This intensely busy period is exposing the fault lines that have existed for some time. Sarah Dwight is a conveyancing solicitor who sits on the Law Society’s Conveyancing and Land Law Committee and leads its residential property working sub-group.
She highlights specific issues of concern: “Provision of up-front information, managing clients’ expectations from the start, and getting estate agents and solicitors to work together more. Also, that conveyancing needs to be better rewarded rather than being seen as a commodity which can be cheap – solicitors keep property secure and safe for lending purposes.”
“We saw there was a major breakdown between estate agents, lenders [and] conveyancers with each other in communication. People were getting quite nasty” – Georgia Davies
It’s little surprise that the stress being exerted on conveyancers has reached an unbearable crescendo. There are reports of many conveyancing staff being off work with stress over the last 12 months; of conveyancers working 18 hours a day plus weekends; working in their car on holiday while the kids are on the beach; of conveyancers spending the day fielding constant stream of calls and emails and doing the substantive work on the file in the evenings and at weekends.
One head of conveyancing, Angela Dunlop at Watkins Solicitors, wrote online: “Agent called my client saying I had ignored 400 emails from them! It transpired they had not sent one! Another agent set a deadline to exchange when our office was closed for Xmas. I was at hospital. Agent said (I quote) ‘All she has to do is make a five-minute call.’”
A key challenge that resonates for all conveyancers is the time being wasted dealing with chasing from clients, agents and others.
Dwight states: “The volume of emails, and if no reply to an email within five minutes, a chasing phone call – this just stops the work from being done as efficiently as it can be.” As one conveyancer says, “The answer at 5.45pm will be the same as the answer at 9.05 the next morning.”
It’s against this pressure-cooker background that a particularly timely webinar on stress management recently took place, organised by The Conveyancing Foundation (see p26).
In March this year, it launched the #BeKindWeCare campaign for those in the property and conveyancing industry who are suffering rising levels of mental health concerns.
Georgia Davies from The Conveyancing Foundation said the charity was driven to launch the initiative after an unprecedented year for the industry when increasing numbers of conveyancers started reporting how rude and unpleasant behaviour was creeping into dealings between professionals because everyone was particularly stressed.
Meanwhile, there is increased opportunity for errors and negligence as conveyancers continue to battle through to the end of June and beyond. Conveyancing, already notorious for being the highest risk practice area for professional indemnity insurance (PII), has become even riskier.
In a recently published review of the spring 2021 renewal period, Brian Boehmer of Lockton Solicitors warns of the impact of the SDLT holiday.
He writes: “While this SDLT holiday has had a positive impact on the volume of conveyance work, insurers have a number of concerns. Notably, a greater volume of conveyancing work being undertaken increases the likelihood of more claims materialising.
“There are also the increased risks that a fixed deadline creates, especially if this results in fee earners rushing work, or worse – such as circumnavigating the risk management steps that you have in place.”
A further risk area Boehmer highlights is conveyancers forgetting to appropriately warn clients that they cannot guarantee the transaction will be concluded in time, particularly given the number of factors which mean the solicitor has no influence on the speed of its outcome.
“Add into the mix some truly diabolical standards of conveyancing from some firms and it is a recipe for disaster” – Alistair McKinlay
He comments: “In light of this, we are aware that until the SDLT holiday has passed, [insurers] will not be revaluating their ceiling tolerance that they have introduced for new business risks with conveyance exposure.”
He adds that the SDLT extensions and the tapering provisions “mean that it is increasingly unlikely that the current ceilings some insurers impose for new business with an exposure to this practice area will alter positively, in time for the forthcoming October renewal season.”
This is not great news for conveyancing firms, particularly when insurance market conditions are continuing to harden.
But could the situation spell trouble for conveyancing factory outfits?
Amit Sharma, a consultant solicitor and director of Solve, the business lawyers, comments: “If the PII market and Solicitors Indemnity Fund is going
the way I think it is, factory conveyancing may potentially implode on itself.
“If the work is to be done properly, let the lawyer focus on matters of title, let the lender’s legal department deal with the lender’s legal work and they can insure themselves, and let the surveyors deal with non-desktop matters.
“I have always said to clients, I decide what I charge, not other lawyers or every man and his dog.”
There is also the much bigger picture to consider. Even before March 2020, there were fault lines in the conveyancing profession that either lay dormant or were beginning to crack, waiting to be exposed.
This frenetic period may be about to fizzle out but the more important questions it leaves are – what can the sector learn from this and what changes does it demand?
As Duncan Baldwin, a consultant at Smith Sutcliffe Solicitors, points out: “It’s been a perpetual race to the bottom in the 36 years I’ve been in the profession. We charge little more, and in many cases, less than we did in the 80s, but the regulatory and compliance requirements have gone through the roof (probably affecting more than 25 per cent of it in the process).
“We need to get away from conveyancing being seen as a price-led commodity and recognise the complexities, importance and risks we face in dealing with transactions.”
Marion Ellis, a surveyor at BlueBox Partners with more than 20 years experience in the residential property sector, says: “We need to look at the whole buying process from start to finish. As an industry we all often work in silo, but what impacts one of us has a knock-on effect on another.”
She also warns of the “real risk of buyers not getting the advice they need in time and treating the [surveyor’s] report like an insurance guarantee. It’s not, it’s a tool, and if not used to get quotes, renegotiate and follow the advice provided to make an informed decision about a property purchase, buyers leave themselves short and exposed on a large spend.”
Stephen Desmond, a specialist property law trainer, talks about how, over his interactions with conveyancers on LinkedIn in recent months, he has been struck by the extent of the strain residential property lawyers have been working under throughout the SDLT holiday.
He comments: “During this frenetic period they have had to cope with unprecedented demand for their services, covid-related delays in the entire conveyancing system, which have been beyond their control, and the unreasonable demands and conduct of some estate agents and clients.” “As a result,” suggests Desmond, “I believe that the regulators and the entire profession need to prioritise the mental wellbeing of property practitioners over the long term. Restoring work-life balance is another priority. ”
Desmond points out a particularly sore point for specialist conveyancing lawyers – their conveyancing fee. “Sale and purchase fees have been far too low for far too long,” he states. “So conveyancers across the board need to raise their fees and keep them at that level after September when the stamp duty holiday ends.”
He also proposes that conveyancers should charge additional fees whenever a client bombards them with unnecessary emails and telephone calls. Desmond points out: “Such time-wasting inevitably causes delays to transactions and often results in lawyers doing essential work out-of-hours when the phones are switched off.”
He said “inconsistent practice standards” must also be addressed – while some firms comply with the Law Society Conveyancing Protocol, others don’t.
Dwight concurs on the need for a fee increase: “Conveyancing is not seen as sexy or glamourous but just a hard slog and perhaps it could have a revamp to ensure that solicitors want to work in this area of law. It can be incredibly fulfilling – there is no better feeling for a client than telling them that they can pick up the keys.”
“Firms [must] really acknowledge that they are nothing without the people that work for them” – Georgia Davies
There is also the issue of many parties and stakeholders in many a conveyancing process. Dhaliwal acknowledges that although the conveyancing process has moved into the digital world, further improvements are still needed.
“There are still too many parties involved in a single transaction from a surveyor, estate agent, mortgage broker, managing agent, to the lender solicitor and anyone else in between. As the saying goes, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth.’”
Then there are concerns of a brain drain of good conveyancing solicitors. So how can firms mitigate the risk of losing their conveyancing talent?
Lloyd Davies, who chairs The Conveyancing Foundation, said: “I believe that conveyancers have faced one of the most stressful times in the history of the industry… “It has and will be crucial for legal practices to manage capacity as well as to reward staff well for all of their hard work and allow them the flexibility to manage that work in a way that suits them as much as possible.”
“Not only do they need rewarding with increased salaries, bonus payments and overtime, but we also need to look ahead from this unprecedented time to their individual personal development,” he added.
Georgia Davies points out that the last year or so in the conveyancing industry “has made and will make more firms realise that mental health is not just a buzzword and something firms should pay lip service to, but is something that is crucial to staff wellbeing and the future sustainability and profitability of their firm.”
Davies has a future vision not only for conveyancing but across the property world and other industries: “Firms [must] really acknowledge that they are nothing without the people that work for them.”
The Conveyancing Foundation webinar featured Angus Lyon, a counsellor and former property lawyer; and Hannah Beko, a commercial property lawyer and mentor; with panel sessions with the CEOs of its charity partners, Sarah Edmondson from Agents Together and LawCare’s Elizabeth Rimmer.
Lyon highlighted the demands of professional life which have multiplied for most of us over the last year. “The risks of burnout of have multiplied,” he stated.
He considered the definitions and symptoms of burnout (job demands can exceed human limits) and went on to set out the stages of burnout.
But he pointed out: “It is so hard to see the signs when work is so full-on… not seeing the wood for the trees and waking up to another groundhog day.”
Hannah Beko acknowledged: “It’s not a simple thing to manage our stress and reduce our chances of burnout. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t be the huge issue that it is, particularly in our profession.”
She went on: “[We can be] looking at the work in front of us and we just don’t know where to start. We don’t know which matter to go to next. We’re trying to decide, do we need to raise enquiries on this? Are we ready to report to the client, etc? And we just can’t make a decision. We can’t sign off on it… it’s like when you’ve done a report on title and you just keep going back to it and keep going back to it because you think there’s something you’ve missed or more that needs to go in there. That being stuck.
We can call it analysis paralysis.”
Beko shared a personal story of the chronic stress reactions she experienced five or six years ago, when she’d get an email or a phone call from the client asking her to get in touch urgently.
“Because of the stress I was under and the effect that had on my brain… I would go straight from seeing that email or that phone call [and go] along this thought process that was, ‘I’ve made a mistake’, ‘I’ve done something wrong’, ‘I’m going to lose the client’, ‘I’m going to lose all my work’, ‘I’m going to lose my house.’
“That was the catastrophic thinking that was starting to go on because of chronic stress that I was under.”
Now, she can take a different perspective. “So instead, when something happens like the same situation, I might attach a different meaning to it, which would be, oh, the client needs to speak to me and no more than just the client needs to speak to me. So, my feelings are, well, I need to get back to them.”
But how might this look in practice, particularly for conveyancers at the place they are now? One question to the panel was, ‘How can we bring those tips into the workplace? How would that look?’
Beko’s biggest tip (which she said is what she has seen work with her clients over the last year) is just talking about it. To realise you’re not alone is “so powerful”, she added.
And what of the role of firm leaders? It’s Rimmer’s view that law leaders “perhaps aren’t as engaged as they ought to be in this”.
She adds: “I think it’s helping people see that in your law firm, your greatest asset is your people, your legal work is done in people’s minds. And looking after the mind of your staff should be a top priority for you.”
Rimmer also warned of the reputational risk to firms when staff have poor mental health and points to the many cases around junior lawyers making mistakes and covering them up – cases relating to toxic workplaces where better supervision and support was and is needed.
“It’s not only about being nice to people and doing the right thing, but it also makes business sense to be looking after people’s mental health,” she added.
Georgia Davies said one of the reasons the Conveyancing Foundation started #bekindwe- care was “because we saw there was a major breakdown between estate agents, lenders, [and] conveyancers with each other in communication. People were getting quite nasty. It’s a real-time of high stress and it’s a high-pressure environment at the moment.”
She asked the panel what could be done to improve the sometimes fraught relationship between solicitors and estate agents?
“I wish I had the silver bullet to that. I really do,” responded Sarah Edmondson, “But I can certainly give it a go. This is about not just us now. It’s about the future and the future of our industry, both separately and together.”
She draws on prior professional experience: “When I was an estate agent, I loved the conveyancing firm we worked with. We had a fantastic relationship. And that started because we set out very clearly our expectations of each other… Take a few minutes to talk about, ‘how are we going to make this work?’ and then run it through.”
Both the lawyers and the agents are just “trying to do their job really well,” she adds, “but because we haven’t set out clear communication strategy at the beginning of the relationship, then all goes to pot really as we get further down the line.
“So together, if we can work to make it less emotional by being clearer across the board to the consumer, to the agent, to the lender, to the conveyancer, actually, we might find out that we reduce the stress levels and we get where we all want to be.”
Convey Law has been recognised for delivering outstanding customer service and shortlisted for two awards at the ‘Oscars’ of the property world: the ESTAS – the Estate Agent of the Year Awards.
Convey, based in South Wales, has been shortlisted for the National Conveyancing Group of the Year Award and the Regional Award for Wales.
The ESTAS are the largest awards for the residential property industry and honour the best agents, conveyancers and mortgage advisors in the UK.
The awards are powered by the ESTAS online customer review platform, which enables property professionals to demonstrate the customer service standards they deliver for their clients.
ESTAS reviews can only be completed at the end of the property transaction and a strict verification process ensures reviews are genuine. This year’s shortlist has been calculated following the evaluation of 60,000 client reviews.
Convey Law Managing Director Lloyd Davies said:
“These awards directly represent the incredible effort put in by those in the property and conveyancing industries who have worked so hard to provide outstanding customer service to their clients despite the extreme challenges they have been faced with triggered by the pandemic, the surge in the market because of the Stamp Duty holiday and remote working across the whole chain they have been dealing with.
“It has been one of the busiest times in our history at Convey Law with record numbers of transactions this year so we are proud to be finalists at these prestigious awards where our valued customers who have actually experienced our conveyancers’ excellent service effectively decide who will win.”
The 18th annual ESTAS will take place on 22 October 2021, hosted by “Location Location Location” host and property expert Phil Spencer in front of an estimated 1000-strong audience at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. The grand final will be the first live event in the property industry calendar since the beginning of the pandemic.
Phil Spencer said:
“To make it onto The ESTAS Shortlist is a great achievement in itself. The ESTAS Awards are based on real feedback, from real clients experiencing real service so they provide genuine proof of the service levels that a firm is delivering to clients.
“Now more than ever high-quality customer service is crucial if home movers are going to realise their dream of getting the property they set their hearts on.”
ESTAS Founder Simon Brown commented:
“At ESTAS, we’re creating a community for best practice property professionals who all share a passion for delivering great service and a belief that service really does matter.”
The Newport-based conveyancing company scooped the Best New Training Initiative award, making it the only Welsh winner at the virtual ceremony hosted by BBC News presenter Samira Ahmed yesterday (25 May 2021).
Convey Law won the award for its industry-leading conveyancing apprenticeship programme and training courses. The category recognised legal practices who rose to the challenge of adapting their training to meet the needs of the last year such as the impact of COVID 19, the switch to remote working and the additional workload caused by the Stamp Duty holiday.
Announcing the award, the BBC’s Samira Ahmed said the judges were particularly struck by the quality, innovation and scale of Convey Law’s training programme.
The BC Awards 2021 were set up by conveyancing trade press bible Today’s Conveyancer to shine a light on individuals, teams and companies who have gone above and beyond to support buyers and sellers during one of the most challenging years the conveyancing industry has ever seen.
Managing Director of Convey Law, Lloyd Davies, commented:
“It has been an unprecedented year for the property and conveyancing industry. I am delighted that our innovative apprentice programme and training courses have been recognised as the best in the industry. Our unrivalled, dedicated Conveyancing Training Pathway has allowed us to recruit and train new conveyancers into highly effective professionals within a 6-to-12-month timeline.
“Our Training Academy has allowed us to grow exponentially this year with an additional 40 new employees joining the team, the majority of which are trainee conveyancer apprentices, with a great future ahead of them at Convey Law. We are continuing to recruit around five trainees a month and we are on target to grow the company to around 200 employees by next year.”
Training Director of the Convey Law Training Academy, Sophia Ramzan, commented:
“We are delighted that our Conveyancing Training Pathway has been recognised by the conveyancing industry. Our Training Pathway is a mix of academic and very practical training which allows us to train new conveyancers in a highly monitored environment very quickly. We have adapted to use videos and online training tools during COVID, which have enhanced the training programme and which we have developed alongside our excellent specialist training partners at the Conveyancing Academy.”
James Smith, Business Development Manager at the Conveyancing Academy, commented:
“Convey Law are leading the way in which conveyancing practices can train their new conveyancers and build their businesses. The “Conveyancing Training Pathway” that we have developed alongside Convey Law includes the new very practical Practising Conveyancer Legal Diploma Course as well as the CLC Level 4 and 6 Apprenticeship courses, which are all fully funded, even in Wales – for the first time ever!
“Convey Law has also been shortlisted for the Medium Employer of the Year award at the prestigious Apprenticeship Awards Cymru 2021, which will be decided on June 17, in recognition of its excellent apprenticeship programme. It is a pleasure to be working alongside such an excellent organisation and team of specialist conveyancing professionals.”
Convey Law was also shortlisted for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Award in recognition of its work in looking after its staff throughout the last 12 months of the pandemic.
The Mindstep Lockdown Relay took place over the weekend with more than 120 people participating including many of the Your Conveyancing Services Team!
Lloyd, Georgia, Kath, Sabina, James, Alex and strongman Ollie all participated in the relay which ran non-stop from Friday 5 pm – Sunday 8 pm, each volunteer completing one hour of exercise, 51 hours in total.
The activities varied from walking, running, dancing, flipping tyres, box jumping, jet washing a patio, DJ’ing and sprints across the Severn Bridge at 5 am. One person achieved 761 burpees in an hour!
The Lockdown Relay aimed to raise awareness of the long-lasting effects COVID -19 has had on mental health and to support suicide prevention research. The event raised an incredible £17,000 for suicide prevention research – over 3x Mindstep’s original target!
Thank you to all those who took part and those who donated via the Just Giving page.